Holyfield vs. Braxton: Was it a Politically Correct Decision?

Evander HolyfieldBy Ted Sares:

Tough times never last, but tough people do.

—Tommy Morrison

…he came back. He got his second wind. But you don’t get a second wind like that. We threw so many punches. It was non-stop action and he was bouncing around like nobody’s business. I’m still puzzled on how he could take that kind of pressure and go the distance.

Dwight Braxton (41-11-1, 25 KOs) grew up in a poor section of tough Camden, New Jersey, where he got involved with crime at a young age. He was convicted of armed robbery, and spent more than four years at New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison (officially East Jersey State Prison), where he learned to box. At Rahway, every boxer’s favorite prison, he found himself. The prison had a great boxing program, and one of its inmates, James “Great” Scott, a tough and popular middleweight title contender, fought several times inside the prison in televised bouts. After turning professional Braxton/ Qawi went 1-1-1 and then reeled off 14 straight victories to move into the world rankings at light heavyweight.

Amazingly, on September 5, 1981, he returned to Rahway to fight Scott. The stakes were high; the winner was promised a shot at Matthew Saad Muhammad’s WBC world championship belt. Qawi, then known as Dwight Braxton, won a unanimous and convincing ten round decision and got the shot at Saad.

Saad Muhammad and Spinks

He was nicknamed the “Camden Buzzsaw” for his aggression and the constant pressure he put on his opponents. Just four years after his release from Rahway, he TKO’d the great Matthew Saad Muhammad for the WBC Light Heavyweight Title. It was shortly after this that he announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name. After dropping a razor-thin decision to Michael Spinks in 1983 in "The Brawl for it All," a fight in which he put Spinks on the canvas, he moved up to cruiserweight and became the WBA champion in 1985.

Evander Holyfield (July 12, 1986)

This match up took place in the Olympian’s hometown of Atlanta, GA. The grueling unification match with Holyfield was pure hell for each fighter and the split decision could have gone either way, but it went to Holyfield after fifteen rounds in what some might call a politically correct decision. After all, an ex-con from Camden was fighting an ex-Olympian in the Olympian’s home town. Holyfield set a blistering pace but the short and muscular Braxton pressured Holyfield as well in an action-packed thriller in which both fighters absorbed tremendous punishment. Holyfield, at twenty-three, was a decade younger, but only had eleven fights coming in. Still, both dug deep and put on one of the great battles of the era and arguably the greatest fight ever at cruiserweight.

Judge Harold Lederman had it a reasonable 144-140 for “The Real Deal;” Judge Gordan Volkman had it 143-141 for “The Buzzsaw.” However, Elias Quintana saw it quite differently and had Holyfield wining it going away at 147-138 which, given the even -give-and-take, seemed simply staggering at the time. But it was what it was, and Dwight Braxton gave Evander the fight of his life. Reportedly, Holyfield lost fifteen pounds in the ring and later was hospitalized.

In the end, a draw would have been the perfect decsison as Braxton controlled the early rounds and Holyfield, amazingly getting a second wind, dictated the pace going down the stretch. But it was not to be.

In retrospect, one can only conjecture as to how an aggressive fighting machine and ex-con out of Camden could possibly have beaten someone who many felt was cheated out of a Gold medal in the Olympics (he was disqualified in a semi-final bout for knocking out his opponent after the referee ordered them to break). How could an ex-con out of Camden beat an opponent who was portrayed at the time as a man of God and as being super clean?

During his fine career, Dwight Muhammad Qawi won the WBC Light-Heavyweight Championship of the World, the WBA Cruiserweight Championship of the World and the WBC Continental Americas Cruiserweight Championship. He was inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Holyfield would go on to immortality at heavyweight. Of course, he will be a slam dunk for induction into the Hall.

Article posted on 09.08.2008

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